Here’s the first installment of an occasional series on things people say they believe, often vehemently, but obviously don’t actually believe.

Number 1: “Corporations are people.” 

If corporations are people then every shareholder is guilty of OWNING PEOPLE and must be immediately rounded up, prosecuted, and imprisoned for the crime of keeping PEOPLE in SLAVERY. 

There’s no way around this straightforward fact. 

If corporations are people, then under the 13th Amendment it’s illegal to own them (except as punishment for a crime).

Therefore, either 

(1) corporations aren’t people, or

(2) every shareholder must be imprisoned for practicing slavery, or 

(3) people making this argument are in favor of slavery and trying to bring it back

They don’t think about it that way, but that’s the logic of their position. The people who make these arguments (wealthists and corporatists) want the advantage of an entity with the same rights as a person that can be legally owned and kept under totalitarian control, but they don’t want the liability or social stigma of being prosecuted for keeping people in slavery.

As soon as you point out this obvious and catastrophic flaw in their position, they start making excuses: “well, but corporations aren’t, like, real people, they’re only fictitious persons.” In other words, “corporations are people” for purposes advantageous to shareholders, but not “people” at all for purposes disadvantageous to shareholders, like protecting the individual rights of people (“fictitious” or otherwise) against coercion or abuse. Wealthists and corporatists want corporations to have all the advantages of being “people” under the law, but without the requirement of treating them like people under law. An individual subject to being dismantled and their body parts sold off, here a leg (motor pool), there a hand (welding department), over there a tongue (public relations department), isn’t treated as a person in any meaningful sense of the word.

A corporation is like a giant robot that doesn’t do anything unless crewed by a team of people. John Deere, Kellogg’s, General Motors, or any other corporation, without the people who work there, is a collection of buildings, machinery, and bank accounts that doesn’t do anything, doesn’t make anything, doesn’t function, doesn’t even repair damage to itself. It sits there and rots. It costs money to own and doesn’t generate any income.

No shareholder wants to own a company where no one does any work because there are no workers. The only companies anyone wants to own are companies crewed by workers making things on the machinery in the buildings. The only robots (corporations) anyone wants to own are robots animated by a crew of workers. The income created by the workers is the only reason any shareholder wants to own a corporation. Fundamentally, the only reason to own a corporation is to extract a portion of the money generated by the labor of the crew making the robot do things. A shareholder’s only purpose in owning a corporation is to own the labor of the people working on the crew, and gain, under laws written to serve the purpose, the “right” to extract money from other people’s labor.

Laws that allow some people to take income earned by other people’s labor is just slavery. It’s not chattel slavery like the pre-Civil War South, it’s slavery under different terms, but it fundamentally amounts to the same core relationships: some people own things that provide them income (plantations, corporations) and other people spend their lifehours doing the labor that creates that income (slaves, workers), but receiving only a portion of the value created by the sweat of their brow.

The people making this argument are outright trying to bring back slavery.
They don’t think about it that way, but that’s the consequence of their position.

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